Author: M&G Africa

Coup or no coup, here are 8 things you should know about Burundi

People celebrate in the streets of Bujumbura on May 13 2015 following the radio announcement that President Nkurunziza was overthrown. (Pic: AFP)
People celebrate in the streets of Bujumbura on May 13 2015 following the radio announcement that President Nkurunziza was overthrown. (Pic: AFP)

A top Burundian general launched a coup attempt against President Pierre Nkurunziza on Wednesday, bringing to a head weeks of violent protests against the president’s bid to stand for a third term.

General Godefroid Niyombare, a powerful former intelligence chief who was sacked earlier in the year, announced via a private radio station that the president had been overthrown hours after he left for neighbouring Tanzania for talks with regional leaders.

The presidency, however, said in a brief message on Twitter that the coup had “failed”. Pro-Nkurunziza troops were still in control of key institutions including the presidential palace and state broadcaster, witnesses said, and fired warning shots to stop demonstrators from marching on the state television and radio building.

Over 20 people have been killed and scores wounded since late April, when Burundi’s ruling CNDD-FDD party nominated Nkurunziza to stand for re-election in June 26 polls. The clashes between security forces and demonstrators have raised fears of a return to widespread violence in Burundi, which is still recovering from a brutal 13-year civil war that ended in 2006 and which left hundreds of thousands of people dead.

Whichever way the crisis ends, there are a couple of things worth knowing about Burundi:

1. It’s becoming a good place to set up a business! Since 2012, it has been possible to register a new business in the country in one day, and for less than $30. The country has made major gains on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business ranking and is now regarded as one of the world’s star economic reformers. This year it placed 140th, from 157th in the 2013 ranking. It has notably jumped 72 places in the ease of registering property, and also made gains in the trading across borders indicator.

2. Urban beaches. Lonely Planet says that Bujumbura’s Lake Tanganyika beaches are some of the best urban beaches of any landlocked country in Africa.The stretch of beach that lies about 5km northwest of the capital is the most beautiful and used to be known as Plage des Cocotiers (Coconut Beach).

Bujumbura beach. (Pic: Flickr / Michael Foley)

3. Burundi was the first country, along with Sierra Leone, to be put on the agenda of the UN Peacebuilding Commission. It was stablished in 2006, to ensure that countries once ravaged by war do not relapse into bloodshed. Burundi has seen 40 years of armed violence and civil war since gaining independence from Belgium in 1962. The conflicts, rooted in political and historical tensions between the ethnic Hutu majority and Tutsi minority populations, have killed more than 300,000 people.

4. The country is developing a Bujumbura City Master Plan to counter population growth and the attendant pressure on public utilities. Its partners on the project, that would bring in order to a cluttered environment, include the United Nations Development Program, and Singapore. The country is also looking to link the capital city to Kenya’s coastal town of Mombasa to make it easier to trade, using a 1,545km corridor.

5. Burundi was the first country in the East African Community to issue e-Passports.  The country introduced the new biometric passport in March 2011.

6. Burundi is one of the most youthful countries in the world. In 2014, with an estimated 45.7% of the population under the age of 15, Burundi comes in 7th in world rankings.

Children play football in Bujumbura on March 19 2015. (Pic: AFP)
Children play football in Bujumbura on March 19 2015. (Pic: AFP)

7. Even though it’s a landlocked country, fishing is a very important sector representing about 1% of the GDP. Fisheries in Burundi are dominated by Lake Tanganyika which it shares with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Tanzania and Zambia. The waters under the jurisdiction of Burundi make up about 8% of the lake and are restricted to the northern coastline.

8. Burundi is one of the most attractive African markets for telecoms investors. Mobile penetration is at around 33% (mid-2014), standing at only about half the regional average – lots of room to grow.

This post was first published on MG Africa. 

African migrants in Europe: Debunking the myths

Migrants wait in a boat during a rescue operation on April 15 2015 off the coast of Sicily. (Pic: AFP / Handout)
Migrants wait in a boat during a rescue operation on April 15 2015 off the coast of Sicily. (Pic: AFP / Handout)

The death toll from the capsizing of a boat carrying migrants off the Libyan coast on the weekend has hit 800, and could reach 950, according to latest reports, piling pressure on European governments to respond to the rising migrant boat tragedies in the Mediterranean.

Amnesty International described the capsizing as a “man-made tragedy that could well have been avoided”, and along with other humanitarian groups is calling for increased sea patrols.

As springtime brings calmer seas, there is likely to be an increase in the number of crossing attempts – and more deaths. Already, more than 1 600 migrants have died in the Mediterranean since the beginning of 2015.

But looking at the broader social, economic and demographic forces driving the crossings, sadly, the drownings are likely to be the new normal.

We debunk some of the myths surrounding the Africa-Europe sea migrations, and give you the two graphs you need to know:

More sea patrols will lead to less deaths

In 2013, when 350 migrants died under similar circumstances, the Italian government put into place a navy search-and-rescue operation known as Mare Nostrum, which patrolled the Mediterrenean and responded to distress calls.

But it soon emerged that search-and-rescue actually seemed to be inadvertently leading to more deaths – cynically, human traffickers responded to the patrols by packing even more migrants off, knowing that they would be rescued in case things go awry.

In the past year alone, there have been a four-fold increase in drownings, and Italian authorities have rescued about 100 000 migrants at sea.

Italy scaled back the mission after failing to persuade its European partners to help meet its operating costs of $9.7 million per month, and now does not do search-and-rescues directly, but asks merchant ships in the area to respond to the calls.

But with the latest tragedy, the calls to reinstitute Mare Nostrum are getting louder. According to the statement from Amnesty, the boat had sent a request for help to the Maritime Rescue Coordination Center in Rome; the centre requested a Portuguese merchant vessel to attend the call, but it did not get there in time.

German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung at the weekend denounced the EU as a ”union of murderers”, accepting the deaths of refugees in the hope of discouraging other refugees from following them.

Europe is overwhelmed by the flood of African migrants at its doorstep

The tragic drownings in the Mediterranean get much media coverage, but African migrants are small fraction of the people trying to get to Europe every year.

Data from the UN’s World Migration Report shows that just 12% of migrants into Europe are from Africa, the majority (52%) are from within Europe itself, largely Eastern Europe and the Balkan states.

Even among the victims of human traffickers into Europe, the UN’s Global Trafficking in Persons report shows that 17% are from Africa, mainly West Africa (14%) and 3% coming from the rest of sub-Saharan Africa – nearly two thirds are from Eastern Europe.

Immigrants are unwanted and not needed

Despite the popular calls to stop the migrations, Europe is currently ageing and shrinking fast, and so has a high demand for people. Germany and Italy are the second and third-oldest countries in the world at the moment, with half the population older then 44 years.

On the other hand, Africa is young and growing, with nearly every country in sub-Saharan Africa having a median age younger than 20.

Furthermore, tough austerity measures in much of southern Europe creates a demand for cheaper workers, and Africa can easily fill that gap by hopping across the sea. In Italy, for instance, 85% of Cape Verdean immigrants are women, mostly working as domestic workers.

But the politics in Europe has swung to favour the far right, anti-immigrant parties. In France, far-right National Front (FN) has had its best showing in years winning 12 French towns, two seats in the Senate, and top position in the European Parliament elections in 2014 elections.

The populist anti-immigrant Finns party, formerly the True Finns came second in general elections on Sunday and is likely to be part of the new government in Helsinki. In the UK, the anti-immigrant UK Independence Party (Ukip) is also gaining some ground.

So there’s a strong demographic and economic demand for immigrants, but loud political opposition to it. Will it mean the end of the flow of immigrants? No. It only means that the market for illegal, rather than legal, migration will grow, and sadly, the drownings in the Mediterranean are likely to become the new normal.

Migrants are desperately poor

Despite the common portrayal of the migrants as desperately fleeing poverty, the data suggests otherwise.

Although it appears they are generally less wealthy and less skilled compared to the migrants who directly go to France, UK and the US on student and work visas, they are rarely from the most destitute families.

Research indicates that migrants tend to be from moderate socio-economic backgrounds and are often from urban areas in their countries of origin. A substantial proportion has secondary or higher education.

With human traffickers charging between $700 and $3 000 for a place on one of the Mediterranean boats, it’s not the kind of fee poor people can afford.

Rather than fleeing poverty, migrants tend to move either “because of a general lack of perspectives for self-realisation in their origin countries and the concomitant inability to meet their personal aspirations,” says this research paper, partly driven by a greater awareness of the possibility out there, mediated by the recent explosion in mobile and Internet access.

It’s a man’s world

Although women and girls comprise the vast majority of detected victims worldwide, women are also prosecuted and convicted of the trafficking crime far more often than for most other types of crime.

Some 30% of convicted traffickers worldwide between 2010 and 2012 were women, whereas the average female conviction rate for other crimes is usually in the region of 10-15%.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said many of them act as guards, recruiters and money collectors, to gain the trust of victims; women involved in human trafficking operations are often in close contact with the victims, whether it is recruiting them, deceiving them or transporting them.

Women are also more likely to be convicted of trafficking. Given that many investigations are based on victims’ testimonies, these low-ranking female traffickers who have contact with victims are most likely to be identified and convicted, while the men at the top of the chain are rarely seen or known by the victims.

Christine Mungai for MG Africa.

African women who aimed to be presidents – and how they fared

Former Malawian president Joyce Banda. (Pic: Reuters)
Former Malawian president Joyce Banda. (Pic: Reuters)

It is no longer big news around the continent when a woman vies for president, although Africans rarely give them their votes: female candidates rarely get more than 1% of the total vote.

Women candidates performed better about two decades ago when Africa was just transitioning into multiparty democracy. The pioneers – in the pre-Millennium Development Goals days before inclusivity and gender parity had become buzz words – did so when the environment was much more hostile to women in politics than it is today.

Despite this hostility – or perhaps because of it – the sheer novelty and audacity of a woman vying for the highest office of the land secured them many “curiosity” votes.

This was particularly the case in the 1997 Kenyan general election, when Charity Ngilu vied as Kenya’s – and East Africa’s – first female presidential candidate.

She surprised many by coming in third in the race with 7.71% of the vote, the most that a female candidate has bagged in East Africa to date, and far ahead of veteran male opposition politicians who were also in the running.

Nigeria had its third female presidential candidate in its just-concluded election that saw Muhammadu Buhari elected with over 15 million votes.

Read more on M&G Africa: 

Yvonne Chaka Chaka reflects on 10 years as a UN Goodwill Ambassador

Growing up in Soweto, Johannesburg during Apartheid, I used to dream of a future where all were equal under the law. Though at times it seemed out of reach, I committed myself to that dream and worked firmly for it.

Taking up my mother’s broom and imagining it was a microphone, I would spin around the kitchen and dream of the stage that would one day be mine, not knowing just how close I was to the force that would take hold of our society and create a unified nation.

Even as a little girl, I believed that my dreams could one day come true and that through entertainment I could change the traditional trajectory of a young black girl in South Africa.

Earlier this month I celebrated my 50th birthday and 30 years in the music industry. I’m deeply proud of the wild journey this little girl from Apartheid Soweto has had, but perhaps I’m most excited about what that journey means for other little girls – and boys – throughout Africa.

This month also marks 10years since I began working with the United Nations to raise awareness and mobilise commitment around health and development issues. Through my work as a Goodwill Ambassador with the Roll Back Malaria (RBM) Partnership and UNICEF, I’ve spent time in some of the most remote communities across this great continent and beyond. I’ve sat with mothers and children – in humble homes and community clinics – and I’ve seen the impact that preventable and treatable diseases like malaria and malnutrition have on communities’ smallest members.

The power of simple tools

But I’ve also seen the power of simple, proven and cost-effective tools. With malaria, for example, I’ve seen the power of a safe night’s sleep under an insecticide-treated net or a definitive diagnosis made possible with a rapid diagnostic test (RDT). Or that teaching simple hand washing with soap or ash can be the difference between life and death, optimum growth or stunting. These simple tools and skills don’t only offer peace of mind; they keep children in school and parents at work. They give hope and transform entire communities.

In 2000, the world came together with a focused determination to eradicate disease and poverty through the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Today, as their deadline looms, global poverty continues to decline, more children than ever are attending primary school, child deaths have dropped dramatically and targeted investments in health have saved millions. Since 2001, we’ve saved more than 4 million lives from malaria alone, and under-five mortality is decreasing faster than any time in the past two decades. Our collective efforts are working.

I’ve seen it first-hand through my work with RBM, UNICEF and countless partner organisations working to create healthier communities. Today, children’s wards are less burdened by preventable diseases, schools are filled with eager young minds and markets are bustling with activity.

But still, we continue to leave many of our youngest behind. Thanks to increased commitment to the health of our children, we have halved the number of children under the age of 5 dying each year since 1990. But still, roughly 17 000 children around the world die each day from preventable and treatable diseases. Not surprisingly, the large majority of childhood deaths occur in the world’s poorest countries. Today, 1 in 11 children born in sub-Saharan Africa dies before their fifth birthday – the significance of marking my 50th birthday is not lost on me in this tragic context.

Child survival includes some of the most cost-effective interventions of our time: vaccines and insecticide treated nets. When we add women to that equation, the return on our investment increases exponentially – healthy, empowered women yield healthy, stable and prosperous communities. It’s a no-brainer.

Lack of attention and investment

But we must be clear: children aren’t dying because we lack the knowledge to save them; they’re dying for lack of attention and investment. As we move forward, women and children must remain a central part of the development agenda, and they must be allowed and encouraged to participate in the process. Education will be crucial, not only for our future leaders, but also for their mothers – if we can educate women, we can drastically reduce neonatal mortality and offer children a healthy start to life. We must also ensure that women and children have access to life-saving health services along a continuum of care, from conception through a child’s fifth birthday.

Data will also be key to ensure all children are counted. Unfortunately, far too many births go undocumented and children are welcomed into the world without notice, with immediate lack of account, services or voice. It’s simple: if every life counts, each life must be counted. When we don’t register births, we welcome any number of negative experiences – including abuse and neglect – on some of our most vulnerable family members. We cannot pretend to protect our children and provide them a healthier world if we don’t know they exist.

In June 2012, hundreds of world leaders gathered in Washington, D.C., where they renewed their commitment to the future of our children through Committing to Child Survival: A Promise Renewed. Since then, nearly 180 governments have pledged to scale up efforts to accelerate declines in preventable maternal, newborn and child deaths. I am grateful for the remarkable commitment and progress that has been made, but it remains fragile and our business is unfinished. Now, more than ever, we must work in partnership – within and between sectors – to stretch the value of our investments and maximise the impact of our efforts.

The road ahead won’t be easy, but if we continue to walk together and share the burden, I’m confident that we can deliver on the promises we’ve made to all children of the world. Every child deserves the chance to dream of his or her future – the stage they might occupy, the power they might hold, the love they might share – and the opportunity to make it happen. Let us work together boldly to nurture those dreams and protect the birthdays yet to come.

Starting school at 96: Africa’s oldest learners and teachers

On January 12, Google through its famous doodle celebrated the first school day of an African student who became the oldest person to start primary school, at the ripe old age of 84.

Kimani Maruge’s feat in 2004 earned him a place in the Guinness Book of World Records, in addition to inspiring the well-received movie, The First Grader. He was in school with two of his grandchildren, as he took advantage of the government’s decision a year earlier to introduce free primary schooling.

Kimani Maruge. (Pic: AFP/Getty)
Kimani Maruge. (Pic: AFP/Getty)

Maruge died in 2009, but there have been no shortages of senior citizens trooping back to both traditional and adult school, many emerging triumphant. On the other side of the desk, there are also been teachers still imparting knowledge well into their golden years.

M&G Africa takes a look at some of the more inspiring ones: